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Note: This an excerpt is from Sarah Cooper’s latest book, How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings.
In this fast-paced business world, female leaders need to make sure they’re not perceived as pushy, aggressive, or competent. One way to do that is to alter your leadership style to account for the fragile male ego.
Should men accept powerful women and not feel threatened by them? Yes. Is that asking too much? IS IT? Sorry, I didn’t mean to get aggressive there. Anyhoo, here are twelve non-threatening leadership strategies for women.
When setting a deadline, ask your coworker what he thinks of doing something, instead of just asking him to get it done. This makes him feel less like you’re telling him what to do and more like you care about his opinions.
When sharing your ideas, overconfidence is a killer. You don’t want your male coworkers to think you’re getting all uppity. Instead, downplay your ideas as just “thinking out loud,” “throwing something out there,” or sharing something “dumb,” “random,” or “crazy.”
Pepper your emails with exclamation marks and emojis so you don’t come across as too clear or direct. Your lack of efficient communication will make you seem more approachable.
If a male coworker steals your idea in a meeting, thank him for it. Give him kudos for how he explained your idea so clearly. And let’s face it, no one might’ve ever heard it if he hadn’t repeated it.
When you hear a sexist comment, the awkward laugh is key. Practice your awkward laugh at home, with your friends and family, and in the mirror. Make sure you sound truly delighted even as your soul is dying inside.
Men love explaining things. But when he’s explaining something and you already know that, it might be tempting to say, “I already know that.” Instead, have him explain it to you over and over again. It will make him feel useful and will give you some time to think about how to avoid him in the future.
Pointing out a mistake is always risky so it’s important to always apologize for noticing the mistake and then make sure that no one thinks you’re too sure about it. People will appreciate your “hey what do I know?!” sensibilities.
Asking your manager for a promotion could make you seem power- hungry, opportunistic, and transparent. Instead, ask a male coworker to vouch for you. Have your coworker tell your manager you’d be great for the role even though you don’t really want it. This will make you more likely to actually get that promotion.
Sometimes not everyone is properly introduced at the start of a meeting. Don’t take it personally even if it happens to you all the time, and certainly don’t stop the meeting from moving forward to introduce yourself. Sending a quick note afterward is the best way to introduce yourself without seeming too self-important.
When you get interrupted, you might be tempted to just continue talking or even ask if you can finish what you were saying. This is treacherous territory. Instead, simply stop talking. The path of least resistance is silence.
When collaborating with a man, type using only one finger. Skill and speed are very off-putting.
When all else fails, wear a mustache so everyone sees you as more man-like. This will cancel out any need to change your leadership style. In fact, you may even get a quick promotion!
Many women have discovered the secret power of non-threatening leadership. We call it a “secret power” because no one else actually knows about it. We keep our power hidden within ourselves so that it doesn’t frighten and intimidate others. That’s what makes us the true unsung heroes of the corporate world.
About the Author: Sarah Cooper
Sarah Cooper is a writer, comedian, and author of 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. Her new book, How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings, is out now.
A satirical take on what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace, Cooper draws from her experience as a former executive in the world of tech (she’s a former Googler and Yahooer). You can get the book here.
This article was originally published on March 25, 2019.